As you are aware from previous posts, I recently received my initial disability claims information from the VA. I am still trying to figure it all out. I am not alone, as I have learned. Several people have posted comments about their experiences, and I am reposting their comments here because they are very illuminating!
Here are a couple of comments from Jennifer. She presents a case study in frustration:
Thank you for posting your experience with the VA Claims process. I am currently receiving VA disability at 10% (migraines), but am rated at 0% for both of my shoulders and back (which is simply VA’s acknowledgement that I suffered injuries in these areas while on active duty). Over the past 10 years (ETS 2002), all of the areas in which I was rated have progressively gotten worse. On 2/11/ 2011, I filed a claim with the VA for a disability rating increase. My claim included a request for increase for migraines, both shoulders, and my back. My case for increase is well documented by my family practice doctor and two different neurologists (ten years of documentation indicating my symptoms have gotten progressively worse). My claim went from the gathering evidence phase to the review of evidence phase in July, 2011; however, it only stayed in this phase for about a week before my file was sent back to the gathering evidence phase. During the VSO’s review, they identified several (8) secondary conditions to my existing claim based on the review of my file. When I noticed my status had changed (negatively), I contacted the VA 1-800-# and was told I needed to provide evidence on the secondary conditions the VA had identified. I thought this request was ridiculous, since the VSO had already identified these conditions based on medical evidence I had already submitted; however, I complied with their request and resent in my medical evidence, along with my service records, and made the case to tie the secondary conditions to the service connected disabilities. In August of 2011, the medical records in my c-file were mysteriously misplaced, and I was asked to resubmit my medical records once again. Again, I complied with the VA’s request and immediately faxed the documentation to the Roanoke Regional Office where my claim resided. I waited several months, periodically checking the status of my claim on the e-benefits web site; however, there was no change in my claim’s status. There was an estimated completion date listed on the top of my claim (12/13/ 2011). This date came with no progress or change in my status; therefore, I contacted the VA 1-800-# again requesting a status of my claim. The VA representative sounded very irritated I had called, and gave me a scripted response- something to the tune of: the length of time it takes to process your claim depends of the complexity of your claim and the number of disabilities needing review- I asked them if they needed anything additional from me, and was told no. Once again, I waited patiently for my status to change- no luck! I contacted the VA in March of 2012 and was informed I needed to send in additional documentation stating I had no other medical evidence or supporting documentation to submit. As instructed, I faxed in the document. My claim skipped the reviewing evidence phase in e-benefits and is now in the preparation for decision phase(as of 9/24/2012- 19 months after the initial submission of my claim). Today is 9/26/2012, and I am still waiting for a decision from the VA. I wanted to do cartwheels when I saw my claim move into the preparation for a decision phase (however, my shoulders and back disabled my excitement (grins)).
I am posting my experience because wanted to share my story and let my fellow veterans know just how slow the process really is. I did have an interesting conversation with one of the 1-800-# representatives that I find worthy of repeating:
He told me he was a disabled veteran as well, and said his own experience with the VA claims process was exhausting (no one gets special treatment- not even the veterans who work for VA). He then gave me advice that I wish I had been given at the onset of my claim. He told me that every time I send in a document, my file is sent back to the gathering evidence phase. When I was sending in my medical documentation, I faxed the documentation in as I received it. Hence,VA’s rationale for my claim staying in the gathering evidence phase for so long. He advised me to submit all of my documentation at one-time, if possible, and to be sure my clam was well documented. He said this is important to ensure the VSO did not have to kick the claim back for questions or additional documentation. I then asked the VA representative another question in which I thought would help my claim. Over the course of the year, I had been to the doctor for my disabilities, and had accumulated much more medical documentation; therefore, I asked him for his opinion- Should I submit the additional documentation to ensure my c-file was up-to-date? He told me, in his opinion, NO, I should not submit the additional evidence, especially if my file already provided adequate evidence of my claim. He told me if I did submit the evidence, my claim packet would be pulled so that the additional evidence could be added to my file, then sent to the bottom of the stack for review. I did not realize that every time a document is submitted, your packet is pulled and sent to the bottom of a “pile”. He told me to hold on to the documentation and wait for a decision from the VA so I would start receiving benefits. He also advised, if I was not happy with the VA’s response to my claim, I should then send in the additional documentation I have accumulated and appeal their decision.
With all of this said, I hope I have shed some light on why the process takes as long as it does. I am just as frustrated as every other veteran submitting claims; therefore, I wanted to share my experience and the advice I was given hoping it will help another veteran with the submission of their disability claim.
That was Jennifer’s first comment. Here is her second one:
Just as I finish typing my blog to you, I contacted VA to learn my claim has been sent back to the gathering evidence phase. The VA service respresentative could not provide me with a reason why… just the typical blanket statement stating they need additional evidedence. Hence, my claim stayed in the decision phase for two days….ugggg!
Keep plugging away, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing!